Penn State trustees meeting: University working to ‘institutionalize’ Freeh recommendations

mdawson@centredaily.comSeptember 19, 2013 

— As everyone knows, the Jerry Sandusky scandal triggered a lot of soul searching and reflection at Penn State, especially inside Old Main and the athletic buildings.

The work the university had to do in response to the crises was laid out in 119 recommendations in the Louis Freeh report, and putting those ideas into practice is work that is largely complete.

Now more than a year after the bombshell conclusions in the report, and with the implementation of 99 percent of the recommendations, the university is striking out to “institutionalize” the changes and “untether” itself from the Freeh recommendations so they are considered the best practices, the university’s general counsel said Thursday.

A board of trustees committee meeting on Thursday gave some insight into how that works.

As a result of the crisis, Penn State has formalized a list of 60 possible categories that need to be considered by the board’s legal and compliance committees, and Penn State general counsel Steve Dunham brought this to the attention of the trustees at the joint committee meeting.

The list includes topics that would have fallen under the mayhem of the Sandusky scandal, such as whistle-blower complaints, government investigations, campus safety and employee discipline. The topics go far beyond that to include threatened lawsuits, animal testing, employment disputes, conflicts of interest, First Amendment issues and employee discipline issues.

The full list is in the charter for the legal and compliance committee.

Dunham told the trustees he believes the creation of the two committees is one of the “truly innovative, powerful, important reforms that has taken place over the last 18 months” at Penn State. It’s opened up communication, he said.

“At the board level, it really sends every signal in the world to management,” he said, adding that at a management level, the structure does away with keeping pressing issues “siloed” away from other leaders.

The university’s chief risk officer, Gary Langsdale, said he’s been involved in an “exhaustive process” to identify all possible risks, and that number is in the high 50s.

“It’s our goal in managing risk to try to figure out what we don’t know that we don’t know,” he said.

Some of the risk categories were determined to be under the purview of a specific board committee, he said, using the example of student alcohol issues. That would belong to the committee of academic affairs and student life and the senior vice president for that area, Damon Sims.

“It’s imperative to share that information with the board,” said trustee Keith Eckel. “Risk is the No. 1 topic in boardrooms today.”

Penn State is also moving into what officials are calling “Phase 2” of its Freeh recommendations implementation. The university has put in place 116 of the Freeh recommendations.

University lawyer Frank Guadagnino told the joint committee that the focus going forward will be the ongoing review of the measures that have been already implemented. In addition, the management structure that oversaw the implementation will continue on.

The goal, he said, is to “maintain the same sense of urgency and momentum that we have built over the past year.”

Dunham told the trustees that he’s spoken to national associations of university lawyers and business officers during conferences in which the work Penn State had done had been well-received. Dunham said he fielded questions from the attendees who were interested in specific recommendations.

The university has established itself as a model for best practices nationwide, he said.

“It’s a very positive initiative that we hope and plan and assume the university will continue to pursue well into the future,” he said.

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